Advice from a rare breed

Eventually, when 10KM runs became tolerable, I decided I wanted to enter the world of distance running.

I started researching training programs and diets. My browsing history was an endless list of articles like “How To Run Your Best Marathon”, “Eat to Complete” and “The Best Shoes for Over-Pronators”. To be frank, it overwhelmed me.

overwhelmed fleck

One weekend, while visiting my in-laws, my husband mentioned that his parents’ neighbor, now a senior, used to run marathons and triathlons. In fact, now in his 80s, he still cycled for 2 hours every day on his stationary bike.

My husband suggested I talk to him about training.

My mother-in-law kindly invited him and his wife for dinner so I could. This made me happy, not only because I could pick a gazelle’s brain, but because company meant my mother-in-law would make pancit and spring rolls.

filipino food

He was a quiet man, unassuming and gentle, who looked more like 55 than 82. Towards the end of dinner, we finally got to chat about running.

“So, how many races have you ran?” I asked expectantly.

“Oh, dozens, but I didn’t really keep track. You see, I didn’t decide to become a runner until the kids were grown up. I was probably in my late 40s. One day, I just put on my shoes and thought I’d see how far I could go. And each day, I went a little further, until I was able to run a marathon. I enjoyed it, so I just kept running them.”

40 start

“You didn’t compete or anything?”

“Oh, no. I was never interested in that. Tell me, what distance are you wanting to try?”

“I’d like to run a half marathon this year,” I replied.

“Oh yes, the Half is probably the most pleasant of all the distance races. It’s long enough to be a challenge for elite runners, but not so long that first timers struggle to finish.”

I gulped.

My biggest fear was signing up for something I couldn’t accomplish, so I asked him if he’d ever failed to finish a race.

“Of course! I remember once running the Ottawa Marathon in a terrible cold rain. My heart just wasn’t in it. At the 30KM mark, I called it quits. It’s important to listen to your body. Sure, it can play tricks on you, but it will also scream, loud and clear, when it’s done fighting. That day, mine was done. And that was okay, because I knew there’d be another race, or another day when I’d finish the distance on my own.”

bad days can be good

“So, I’ve been researching diet and training regimens for the half marathon. But I really don’t know if I can stick to a weeks-long program. What kind of training program do you recommend?” I asked.

He grinned. “There’s so much information out there, it’s overwhelming, isn’t it?”

I nodded, dewy-eyed.

“But running isn’t hard, really. It’s just one foot in front of another until you need to stop. Just try to run the distance on your own and see how you do. You’ll know when you’re ready.”

It was so simple.

Just get out there and try.

Why hadn’t the Internet told me THAT?!

mind blown

By then, dinner was over and I got up to help clean. During dessert, he leaned over to me.

“You know,” he whispered, “us runners… we’re a rare breed.”

I smiled.

“No,” I thought, as I looked at his kind face.

“You’re the rare breed.”

rare breed

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Peeling back the layers

It’s -41 outside.

As the saying goes, ‘if it’s -41, thou shalt not run’. Ok, I made that up. But still. Honestly, Canada, why won’t you let me go outside!!!!!

I wanna go outside

The off season in Canada can be brutal. Not only do Canadians wear layers, we grow layers.

Over the holidays last year, I took a full 3 weeks off running. It had been a rough year and my knee (short leg) had been misbehaving terribly. 3 weeks off seemed a good idea but, inevitably, the recovery sloth resulted in… well… fat.

I got fat.


My first workout post-holiday-knee-recovery was brutal. After a long first day back at work, I forced myself to gym, despite the -30 degree cold and premature darkness (seriously, it’s like midnight at 5pm here in the winter).

My gym is next to a grocery store and, as I pulled in to my parking spot, I got a craving for ice cream. I sat for a minute, debating. I looked down at my muffin top. Really, what would one more treat hurt? Besides, with it being -30 outside, I could get the ice cream first, put it in the car, and get my workout in without having to go to the store sweaty and gross or risk the ice cream melting. This. Was. Happening.

I ran into the store, expecting it to be empty. It was not. The place was a zoo, and I was walking through it wearing spandex that didn’t fit me anymore.

fat bum

“Ok, run to the ice cream, then hit the express checkout, and no one will see you,” I told myself.

Ice cream attained, I approached the checkouts.

The lines were enormous.

I felt like a tool standing there, wearing gym clothes that didn’t fit, holding nothing but a pint of Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk. I could feel people’s judgments burning a hole in my lycra.

checkout line

Ice cream paid for, I ran back to the car and hid it out of sight (the shame was real), then hit the gym. Inside, I was overcome by a cloud of New Year’s sweat.

All of the treadmills were taken, except one. The Treadmill of Destiny.

skinny people onlyIt was like I was being  punished for my 3 weeks of sin.

I stepped on the Treadmill of Destiny, peering over my shoulder to see if Gazella DeVil was nearby. Thankfully, she wasn’t around.

I hit the power button. Nothing.

too fat for the treadmill

Confused, I hit it again. Still nothing.

go home

One last time. Nada.

sad face

I looked around, chubby and embarrassed. I wanted to hide in my car and eat my pint while crying to a Céline Dion song.

Celine Dion

But, then, I thought otherwise.  I’d made it this far. I was a runner. I could do this.

My stomach growled in approval.

At that moment, I saw someone step off a treadmill in front of the window.

Furious, I got on and pounded away at a ridiculous clip for over half an hour. I abused the treadmill so harshly there was an aura of steam on the window in the shape of my (round) body.

Killing it

When it was over, I slowed to a walk and, for the first time in 40 minutes, looked around. Next to me was a young guy who was clearly a newbie. He was staring at me, completely and utterly terrified.

Suddenly, it hit me.

I was his Gazella.



I stopped, then looked back at him and smiled.

“And now, to kill a pint of ice cream!” I announced, giggling.

He laughed and resumed his workout with a smile on his face.

I went home and happily consumed every calorie I’d just burned.

endorphins and sugar

I like wearing layers.

But I like having them even more.




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Garbage day

Running changed me gradually – I really didn’t notice my heels becoming shorter, or my dresses morphing into stretchy pants. My once perfectly styled  Chelsea Blow-Dry slowly lost its bounce, until eventually I couldn’t remember where my round brush was.

I even let go of makeup. Trying to salvage a painted face after a workout isn’t an easy task, and I salute those who commit to it. My last holdout was mascara, which I ditched permanently after an unfortunate sweat-and-mascara-combo-in-eyes accident.

it burns

But it took spending a day with my mother to make me see just how dramatic my change really was.

It had been years since we’d had a Girls’ Day Out (otherwise known as shopping and lunch in the Big City), so one morning I called to see if she’d like to have one. My mom is, and always will be, my style icon. Even as a retiree, she rocks 4 inch heels on the regular and can still style-smash the best of the wannabe trendsetters.

When I picked her up that day, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Jeggings, riding boots, long sleeved tee, with hair pulled tightly into a bun. I was presentable.

She looked me up and down.


When we got to the city, we made a bee-line for our favorite shops. But something was missing, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

“What do you think of these boots?” My mom said, holding up a pair of gorgeous purple suede heels. My heart twitched.


I picked them up. I looked them over. I might have even petted them. But something was wrong. “No, I don’t think I’ll get those.”

“Why not?” Mom asked.

“Well, it’s just that, after a long run, my feet and legs swell and I don’t think I could get into them.”


She looked me up and down. We moved on.

In another store, we found a gorgeous jacket. It was olive green and double-breasted with shiny brass buttons. I was in love.

“Are you going to get it?” My mom asked.

I felt a frown fall over my face as the love affair died.


“Why not?”

“Well, I can’t stuff that in a gym locker. And I certainly can’t wear that home post-spin class, it’ll get ruined.”

She looked me up and down. We moved on.

cold gear


After visiting a few dozen shops, I saw it.

I give up

My feet picked up speed, and my heart pounded as my cheeks flushed with excitement. It wasn’t long before I was skipping happily along the aisles, loading my arms with compression-everything. I could barely see over the pile of lycra.

When I could hold no more, I went to the front of the store and, horrified, watched as my mom picked out a yellow crop-top hoodie and matching yellow tights.

“Here, I found you an outfit,” she said with a smile.

“But, Mom, runners don’t wear ‘outfits’.”

“Nonsense,” she replied, “and besides, you need to add some color to your workout wardrobe.”

I looked at the pile of black in my arms.

All black erry day

She had a point.

“But, Mom, you don’t understand. Black hides sweat stains!”

She shook her head. “You can’t possibly sweat that much. I’m buying it for you.”

“Mom! I’m in my 30s! I can pick out my own clothes!”

She looked me up and down. It was like I was 12 again.

“But, Mom!” I said, exasperated, “I look like GARBAGE when I run!”

She looked down at me,  perched upon her wedge heels. “There’s never a reason to look like garbage.”


And so, when I’m behind on laundry and run around the neighborhood looking like a bruised banana, I think of that day and laugh. I call these runs “taking out the trash”.

Chiquita banana


But, I must admit, I don’t look bad in yellow.

I love you, Mom. 🙂



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